Severe winter storm brings hazardous roads; frigid temps for holidays
It was a winter storm not seen in this young Century —and it brought Switzerland County and all of the surrounding area to a stop over the Christmas weekend.
Forecasters with the National Weather Service were predicting a winter storm featuring below zero temperatures coming into the area last Thursday night, and they were spot on; as the storm began with heavy rains that saw powerful winds blast the area.
Temperatures plunged Thursday night and into early Friday morning, as thermometers fell as low at -10 in some areas of Switzerland County; with wind chills dipping as low at -25 to -30 during the night.
Friday saw temperatures that failed to rise above zero; and as town, county and state workers plowed streets and roads with hopes that people would still be able to make their Christmas plans.
Interstates 75 and 71 were the scenes of several multi-vehicle accidents, as semi trucks and other autos collided on the slick, icy roadways.
Interstate 71 got to the point that traffic was re-routed down Kentucky 1039 and across the Markland Dam into Switzerland County. Cars were then sent down State Road 156 east, trying to get them to Highway 50 at Aurora; but a semi truck accident here east of Florence caused more delays — as did GPS systems that were trying to send motorists — including semi trucks — up Turtle Creek Road and Little Hominy Ridge Road.
The bitter cold and packed snow and ice made it nearly impossible for workers to clear roads, but that didn’t stop workers from trying to make the roadways as safe as possible.
With county officials issuing declarations to try and limit unnecessary travel, roads were still seeing vehicles as county residents tried to get to work.
Saturday afternoon and all day Christmas Day saw the after-storm impact, as the snow and icy rain had moved out of the area, but temperatures below freezing still made driving hazardous.
Things seemed to be making progress as the new week dawned, but Switzerland County saw another one- to two-inches of snow overnight Sunday and into Monday morning, which caused highway workers to again work to try and keep roads clear.
Some relief appears to be on the way, as the National Weather Service is forecasting temperatures today (Thursday) to rise as high as 52; with a low of just 45 tonight — but there is a chance of rain. The warmer temperatures should limit the issues that the rain might cause, however.
Tomorrow (Friday), rain looks like, but again the high temperature is forecast to be 53-degrees. The low on Friday night falls to just 45; with a high of 55-degrees on New Year’s Eve, with rain expected to hang around.
Sunday, New Year’s Day, the high temperature looks to stay in the mid-50s, and those mild temperatures look to stay through most of next week.
Switzerland County Highway Superintendent Anthony Thomas said that each of his workers put in about 40 hours of overtime in dealing with the winter storm, but overall things went well in dealing with the snow and ice.
“We went out again today (Monday),” Thomas said by phone. “Friday night and Saturday night, that was all pretty much, a lot going on, but today we went out and got rid of the snow we got today (Monday). By tomorrow (Tuesday) we should be in pretty good shape with our county roads.”
Thomas said that his crews first went out onto Switzerland County roads on Thursday night at 8 p.m. and worked until 5 a.m. Friday morning battling the conditions.
“Then we went home and got some rest and came back in about noon on Friday, and worked until 5 p.m.; and then came in on Christmas Eve and worked from 7 a.m. until noon,” Thomas said. “We were off on Christmas Day; and then came in on Monday about 9 a.m. and started dealing with the snow we got overnight.”
Thomas said that the Switzerland County Highway Department is responsible for 350 miles of county road, including gravel roads and asphalt roads — with 14 workers covering all of that.
“Some of the roads we don’t get because they’re dead ends and no one lives on them, but we travel a good 300 of it,” Thomas said.
Thomas said that the county uses a combination of salt and cinders (actually slag now from the steel mills across the river, because cinders are no longer available to road crews anywhere), with the county workers mixing the two themselves to deal with specific conditions.
He said that temperatures like the ones the county saw over the weekend makes things even more difficult.
“When it gets down below 20 degrees, you don’t get a whole lot of use out of the salt,” Thomas said. “The guys did a really good job because they were getting the roads in good shape, and then with the snow this morning (Monday), since the roads were cold the snow stuck pretty quick; so it takes a little longer for that to get off of there — but by tomorrow we should be in good shape.”
Thomas said that the slag component of the mixture helps provide traction for vehicles out of the icy roads.
But even with all of the material that had to be used over the past couple of days in dealing with the storm, Thomas said that the county still has plenty of snow and ice-fighting supplies to get the county through the winter.
“We’ll be in good shape even if we get something like this again,” he said. “We’ve probably got 150 tons of salt out there; and last year the county bought about 2,000 tons of cinders — so we’re in good shape if something else happens.”
County workers dealing with the storm along with Thomas included: Steve Shackleford, Mark Covington, James Bruce, Dave Shelley, Barry O’Neal, Ernest Bovard, Brian Works, Dennis Hunt, Steve Auxier, Dusty Hunt, Roger Satterfield, Andy Hunt, and David Pike.